Christmas Extravaganza 2019
As head of the festival committee, it falls to Tilly Sullivan to organise the annual Christmas Ball. However when the venue burns to the ground with only four days to go, she’s left with the huge task of finding a new location. But everywhere is booked solid.
Leo Keely has the only place big enough to host the party, however he has a huge issue with Christmas...and with Australian women whose surname is Sullivan.
A winter storm, fallen trees, and a corrupt mayor all conspire to make certain that this year's ball doesn’t happen. But Tilly isn’t a woman to give up. And if it means convincing Leo to let her use his venue, that’s what she’ll do.
Councillor Tilly Sullivan dropped the cordless landline phone to the desk, buried her head in her hands and groaned. This news couldn’t have come at a worse time. Although on reflection, in four more days it would have been worse—a lot worse. There would have been no hope of fixing what was at the present time, simply a setback. After all, removing everything with a single trace of peanuts from the menu because one attendee was allergic hadn’t been such a problem. The caterers assured her they could adapt. That was their job. This too was a similar setback. She’d adapt, find a solution and solve the problem in no time at all. That was what she was being paid to do.
Hah! Who was she kidding? This was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster of the first degree. She had no idea what to do next.
The phone rang again, and Tilly was sorely tempted not to answer it. She didn’t think she could cope with any more bad news. At least, not before she’d had a mug of incredibly strong coffee. Or two mugs. Maybe more. Not that she needed to be wired any more than she already was. She was up to her eyes in organising the Christmas Ball. Something she’d done every year since she joined the town council after graduating from university with a degree in politics.
Ignoring the phone, right along with the desire for coffee, she returned her thoughts to her family. They’d emigrated to the UK from her native Australia nineteen years ago and politics was all she’d ever wanted to do. Being the councillor in charge of the Festival committee wasn’t what she had in mind, but she loved her job a lot more than she’d expected and now everyone was counting on her to deliver.
Only she couldn’t. Not anymore.
She wanted to cry. To throw herself on the floor and scream, wail and pound her hands and feet against the ground the same way her two-year-old nephew did when he didn’t get his own way. It wasn’t possible for the day to get any worse. It was barely 9:00 AM and already her world had crumpled into a scorched mess.
The phone continued to ring. Curiosity got the better of her. Without opening her eyes, she reached out and grabbed the handset. “Matilda Sullivan speaking.”
“Have you seen the news?” Millicent Awning, her best friend and personal assistant, spoke quickly and without preamble.
Tilly sighed. “No.” She wasn’t going to ask why, she could guess. “Why are you phoning me from the room next door?”
“I’m not. I’m currently stuck in traffic on the bypass. The Birches is on fire although you probably already know that. It’s all over the radio and most likely the TV as well.”
“What channel?” Did she really want to see how bad the fire was? Yes. She had to know. She crossed the room to the TV and reached for the remote control.
“Try the BBC first. But I imagine it’d be on all of them. It’s one massive fire. Twenty pumps in attendance at the last count.”
Tilly flicked on the TV and turned to the news channel. Shock ricocheted through her as she stood transfixed in front of the box. Flames surrounded the historic eighteenth-century building, leaping from every window, licking up all four sides. An aerial view showed the roof had collapsed. It was worse than the initial phone call had made it seem.
A tiny squeak escaped, and Tilly dropped to her knees on the cold office floor. What would she do now? A small fire they could have worked around, but this…?
“What are you going to do?” Millicent’s voice dragged Tilly’s attention back to the phone. The same thought she’d had, the same question she would now be asked a million times from several different people. Over and over again.
“I have no idea. I’ll see you when you get in.” Tilly ended the call and dropped the handset to the floor beside her. “Maybe.” She blinked hard and rubbed her hands over her face.
All her hard work gone. She’d spent the better part of the last week helping the owners of the gorgeous hotel decorate the ballroom and entrance hall to match her theme. Each year was different. This year, they told her she had outdone herself. Her best yet. The ball had sold out weeks ago. Now she’d have to refund all three hundred tickets and compensate the caterers, musicians…
She broke off the thought. Guilt ran rampant. What if someone was hurt? Surely that should have been her first concern, not the fact her planning was now literally in ashes.
She groaned again. Rolling off her knees, she lay face down and gave into the urge to scream and hit the floor. It didn’t help. She sucked in a deep breath. She could almost hear her mother’s voice. “Pride cometh before a fall, Matilda, and a haughty spirit before destruction.”
She closed her eyes. Was it a sin to take a modicum of pride in her work? It wasn’t like she was doing it for herself. OK, she’d get as much fun out of the ball as the next person, but she was doing it for the town. It wasn’t Christmas without the ball. And now for the first time in the years she’d been doing the job, there would be no ball.
The phone rang again. Tilly wanted to ignore it but couldn’t. Crawling to the desk, not caring how it looked should anyone be watching, she stretched up a hand and grabbed the handset. “Hello.”
“Could I speak to Matilda Sullivan?”
“Speaking,” Tilly muttered. She knew who it was. She’d recognise that upper class, nasal tone anywhere. Her heart sank. She rolled over and lay on her back, staring at the ceiling, wondering how much worse the day could get.
“This is Mayor Willard Browning.”
“What can I do for you, Councillor Browning?” she asked. He’d been acting mayor since Mayor Stevens had died in office last month. The council were due to vote on a replacement in the New Year. The man was convinced he’d get the post hands down and made sure everyone knew it, usually by refusing to use the word acting in his title. Her vote was one the man wouldn’t be receiving.
“Mayor,” he corrected.
“My bad. What can I do for you, Acting Mayor Browning?”
“As the ball won’t be going ahead, I need you to organise all the refunds. Starting with mine. But I want mine in full this afternoon. Everyone else can get half the money back…call the rest a non-refundable deposit.”
Tilly sat upright, outraged at the thought. “Now wait a minute. Who said the ball isn’t happening?”
“The venue is in flames as we speak. The Christmas Eve Ball is three days away. That is nowhere near enough time to reorganise anything. Never mind all the money we’ve already spent on the food and music and decorations. We don’t have an unlimited supply of funds as well you know.”
“Four days, actually,” she corrected, not bothering to keep the anger out of her voice. “It’s December twentieth today. That gives me four days. If I haven’t found anywhere by three o’clock on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth, then and only then I will issue refunds. Everyone, including you, will receive a full refund.”
“Now wait just a cotton-picking minute, young lady—”
Tilly cut the pompous man off. “I don’t have time to chat as I have a replacement venue to find. I’ll keep you informed as to my next step. G’day!”
Tilly ended the call. Something about the idea of not giving everyone back all their money rang an alarm bell in her head. She’d long had doubts about the council finances and had begun her own investigation into it. For now, that thought had to wait.
She turned her attention back to the television. The knock at the door almost went unanswered, but she figured she ought to be polite at least once to whoever it was. “Come in.”
A hand appeared around the door, an outstretched mug of coffee in it. “I bring a peace offering.” Millicent quickly followed the cup, a manila folder tucked under her arm. “Finally got here and I figured you could use this. What are you doing on the floor?”
Tilly reached up and grabbed the cup. “Not wanting to believe that.” She angled her head at the TV screen. Raising the cup to her lips, she inhaled deeply and then took a long drink. She did need it. “Thank you for this. If Acting Mayor Browning calls again, I’m not in. Don’t put him or anyone else from the council through. Or anyone else asking about refunds. The Christmas Ball isn’t cancelled. No one is getting a refund. At least, not yet. Not until I have explored every avenue as regards to a new venue.”
Millicent sat on the floor beside her. She set the folder on her lap. “You think you can find one, this late in the day? And at Christmas time?”
Tilly looked at her. “It’s only nine thirty in the morning.”
“No, silly. I mean late in the day as almost time for the ball, not as in the time of day. I thought you’d be more au fait with the Brit-isms by now. I mean Aussie English is closer to English English than what the Americans speak.”
“Nope.” Tilly shrugged. “I have to try to find somewhere for the dance. The whole town is looking forward to it. Even those who don’t dance come to the carols beforehand or to watch and enjoy the fireworks afterwards.” She paused, a horrid thought hitting her hard. “Speaking of fireworks. Where are they?”
“Not at the hotel, if that’s what you’re worried about. They weren’t being delivered until the twenty-third. Same as always.”
Somewhat relieved, Tilly finished her coffee and set the mug down. “I have to get down there. See the damage for myself. Find out what I can do. Try to put this right somehow.”
Millicent, ever the voice of reason, picked up the cup. “They won’t let you anywhere near the fire. And the traffic is backed way up all the way around the ring road. Even if you do make it into town, there’s nothing you can do, to be honest. You know that. You’d be better off staying here and starting a ring around of potential venues.”